Building A Sonic Forest

Architect/composer/musician Christopher Janney has always been able to see the forest for the trees: in his case, it’s a “sonic forest,” one with technical trees, or towers outfitted with lights and sound for an interactive experience with the audience. Now Janney is back, with a new version of these high-tech trees, for an event titled Everywhere Is The Best Seat, or Sonic Forest 2.0, expanded to include 36 towers, rather than the 18 used in the first run. The towers themselves have also been updated, each housing four Allen Bradley photo-sensors, five Philips Color Kinetics MR16 color-changing LEDs with custom DMX control, a Diversitronics star strobe, and a 6.5" full-range JBL speaker in a custom-built tuned port.

“This project is very site-specific,” says Janney of the location at Montclair State University in New Jersey, where he will be part of this fall’s Peak Performances series. “There is a beautiful stone amphitheatre, and I wanted to do something special there. It made me think of the John Cage quote, ‘Everywhere is the best seat,‘ and I had the idea to flip everything and put the show in the seats.” So that’s exactly what he did, with the 36 towers fanning out in three lines in the handsome stone environment and the architectural layout taking into consideration existing lighting bollards and handrails. The visual environment juxtaposes the 1930s-era stone with the more contemporary bright red aluminum and PVC.

The installation will be in place from September 1 through the end of November, with a few live concerts on the stage of the amphitheatre as well, utilizing a quad sound system with Meyer Sound loudspeakers, sending Janney’s audio back into the amphitheatre. “The flip intrigues me,” Janney explains. “Where is the stage? Who is the audience?”

As in the first Sonic Forest, the audience can trigger the trees and sit anywhere on the stone steps of the amphitheatre and let the preprogrammed lighting cues and random music sequences engulf them. After Montclair, the installation will be split into two forests of 18 trees each and tour the world as twin systems.

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